As a pilot in the Israel Defense Forces, Asaf Brimer flew combat missions.
When he left the army, he made a career for himself in the Israeli aerospace industry.
But if Brimer learned anything from his time in the air, it’s that from up there, everyone looks the same.
That’s why he’s worked with Dr. Hussein Tarabieh, an Arab-Israeli, to co-found Moona, A Space for Change — a nonprofit organization in the Galilee that seeks to bring Arabs and Jews together through mutual interests in science, technology, exploration and entrepreneurship.
Brimer visited here last week from Pittsburgh’s sister city, Karmiel. His itinerary included a joint-session with local Jewish and Islamic leaders, meetings with some of Pittsburgh’s similar startup accelerators and tours of TechShop in Bakery Square and Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab.
“We chose space because space does not belong to anybody. There are no borders, no walls,” Brimer said. “Moona, in Arabic, is a wish or a dream. The idea is to establish space, which bridges societies in Israel, which is so divided now.”
In keeping with that idea, Moona’s goal isn’t just to foster interest, research, cooperation and trust between Jews and Arabs in Israel, but to create collaborative spaces with similar principles here on terra firma. Earlier this year, the organization opened the Moona Space Center in the Arab-Israeli city of Sakhnin in the Misgav region.
“If we did it in Karmiel, it would be much easier, but it would be more of the same,” Brimer said. “It would not bring the change that we wish for, or get people to remove the borders between their two societies.”
Moona has had a marquee first year. In January, it opened its Sakhnin location with a delegation from NASA on hand, including Administrator Charles Bolden and several astronauts.
It hosted a series of meet-ups with international experts on fostering technology and entrepreneurship for Jews and Arabs. Last month, Moona hosted a “singularity conference” whose attendees included representatives from NASA, Google and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Scientists Night at the space center saw more than 1,000 Jews and Arabs visit the new facility, use telescopes and listen to lectures from various space
Brimer and Tarabieh are already seeing dividends. So far, two Arab-Jewish cooperative technology startups have emerged through Moona’s efforts with more likely to come.
“It’s not usual for Jews to come to Arab cities to do things. They’re not used to it. And it’s not easy for Arabs to engage in activities [organized by] Jews. There’s a lot of suspicion. They don’t know why we came,” Brimer said. “But if you do attractive activities and you do them together, it can be for everyone.”
(Matthew Wein can be reached at email@example.com.)